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June 13. 2014 12:17AM

Director says plan would keep Manchester drivers ed solvent

MANCHESTER — The district’s drivers education director says he has a plan to keep the program solvent that could include raising tuition to $550.

Enrollment in Manchester’s drivers education program has steadily declined since 2011, leading to a deficit that now tops $100,000.

A growing number of school districts have ended drivers education since the state pulled subsidies for such programs in 2011. Last month, Timberlane Regional High School became the latest to announce it would end driving instruction because of mounting deficits.

Many parents have turned to private driving schools as an alternative to public school programs.

Mike Dubisz, Manchester’s drivers education director, told the school board’s Coordination Committee on Monday that changes he made to the program over the past year would allow it to finish the fiscal year with a $7,000 surplus, unlike the past three years when it had deficits of $38,000 to $75,000.

The program is still carrying a $118,000 negative fund balance, according to data Dubisz presented to the committee.

Dubisz said the savings this past year came from unfilled vacancies, salary adjustments and by cutting his own hours.

The number of students enrolled in the program this past school year was 484, a decline from last year but not as dramatic as in the previous years. There were 613 students in 2011, when the state-subsidized tuition was $325. Tuition was hiked to $500 the next year, and to $525 in 2013.

Dubisz said he felt tuition could be increased to $550.

“We’d still be the least expensive in the state,” he said.

Dubisz projected that the program could finish the 2015 fiscal year with a nearly $33,000 surplus.

But several school board members were skeptical about the projections, and one, Chris Stewart, Ward 3, wondered if was time to “outsource” the program.

Committee Chairman Ted Rokas, Ward 5, said on Thursday that he wasn’t ready to give up on the program, but he wanted to take a closer look at the numbers.

“I don’t think eliminating the program is the answer. I think better management might be,” he said. “We want to get a better idea of what the expenses are, what is the actual income and compared to other districts, what are we charging and what are others charging.”

The committee voted to table the matter until the August meeting, when more solid and detailed numbers will be available for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Assistant Superintendent David Ryan noted that other districts have discontinued drivers education programs.

“If we were to continue, we would look to at least break even,” he said.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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